Proposed Plan Could Expand Broadband Access In Athens County

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A proposal to upgrade Athens County’s 911 communications infrastructure has the potential to make broadband Internet available to areas of the county not currently served.

It would have a price tag of up to about $900,000, but county officials said there would be several benefits.

The Athens County Commissioners are considering a proposal from Agile Network Builders, a Canton-based company that already has a contract to develop the state’s Multi Agency Radio Communications System — the public safety and first-responder wireless communication system known as MARCS.

Under the proposal for Athens County, the county’s eight 911 towers — which currently communicate via radio — would be linked by microwave, according to County 911 Director Dan Pfeiffer.

“It’s going to clarify a lot of our communication,” Pfeiffer said of the project if it goes forward.

Also, the county would become part of a larger network and could potentially serve as a regional hub for emergency management and communication, Pfeiffer said.

Even more important, according to Pfeiffer, is that 911 would only use a small portion of the available bandwidth, and the excess could then become available for use by residences and businesses.

He cited the example of Amesville, which currently does not have broadband Internet. The new system would utilize Athens County’s 911 tower in that area, and Internet service providers could access that tower rather than having to build their own infrastructure.

Business also could make use of the broadband.

“Probably the biggest part of this is the economic impact it could provide,” Pfeiffer said.

County Commission President Lenny Eliason said he expects the commissioners will make a decision on the proposal in the next few weeks.

“One thing it will do is improve some of the communication countywide. It will also give us some redundancy and backup,” Eliason said, adding that it would make broadband available to some county government facilities that do not have it.

For those county offices that already have broadband, the new system would be faster, Pfeiffer said.

Eliason said it also would better position the county for the next generation of 911, which, when implemented, will allow 911 to determine the location of callers using cell phones.

Eliason said the county has a couple of pools of money it could draw upon to fund the Agile Networks proposal. He said the county has about $719,000 in funding provided through a state tax intended for equipment to improve wireless communication. Also, the county has some 911 funding set aside for improvements.

“There is also some state grant money that is available that we would apply for so we don’t use all our money up,” Eliason said.

Agile would build, maintain and operate the system for the up to $900,000 the county would be charged. Agile is proposing a 10-year agreement.

Eliason said there are some questions that need to be answered before the commissioners make a decision. Those include:

• Will there be any ongoing costs?

• What happens after the 10-year contract expires?

• Will the county get a share of revenue Agile generates by making the excess bandwidth available to others?

Kyle Quillen, founder and chief technology officer for Agile, told the commissioners during a meeting last week that once given the go-ahead, the company could have the system up and running in three to six months. That’s because the company is already in the area working on the MARCS system.